5 shoulder training mistakes & how to correct them

Shoulders are complex structures as they consist of a joint and the requisite muscles that enable movement of your arms through a 180 degree arc, which means we need a multifaceted approach to shoulder training.

It is the only joint structure in the body where that is possible. The shoulder is also involved in almost every upper body exercise or movement pattern.

It is understandable then that many athletes and serious gym-goers will experienced an injury to their shoulder joint at some point in their training as the wide range of movement capabilities make the shoulders more susceptible to injury.

Often, people don’t want to train their shoulders hard opting instead to cruise through their sets out of fear of suffering an injury to the fragile ball-and-socket joints. This issue is further compounded when shoulder muscles are not strengthened to the same degree as the major muscle groups in the upper body such as chest and back, which causes strength imbalances.

In this regard, there are a few common mistakes that people make when it comes to shoulder training. To avoid injury, develop strong shoulders that aid movement, and add the the aesthetic appeal of your upper body, avoid falling foul of these common errors…

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Mistake 1: Overstimulating your front delts

The front (anterior) deltoid is the one muscle that carries the heaviest load when you work out. This muscle group comes into play when you train chest, back and even arms (for instance, when you perform dips and close-grip bench presses for triceps).

The overstimulation and disproportionate amount of work imposed on the front deltoids is most noticeable when you attend a fitness show where many athletes will likely have superior front shoulder development, but lack the balance in other areas.

This is as a direct result of an overload of presses and dipping exercises that dominate many programmes today.

A well structured routine will not let you train chest and shoulders in the same workout and will ensure that adequate time is left between the days you train shoulders and other body parts that overlap with this muscle group. Ideally, three days should pass between hitting chest and shoulders.

A good rule of thumb is then to train your shoulders on Monday and then your chest on Thursday or Friday. It is also a good idea to place less emphasis on anterior shoulder development during dedicated shoulder training sessions and focus more on medial (side) and posterior (rear) deltoids.

Mistake 2: Forgetting the medial delts

A good set of shoulders on an already athletic body completes the picture. However, many physique-conscious individuals overemphasise forget about the importance of increasing the width of their shoulders by targeting their medial (middle) delts. While the front deltoids are the most visible in the group, the width needed to create that sought-after V-taper physique is achieved with adequate medial deltoid development.

Mistake 3: Using too much momentum

Each deltoid is relatively small and needs to be isolated with the correct exercises to be fully developed. Most people go to heavy on lateral (side) and front raises and when they struggle to get the weight up successfully they use momentum to help them to complete the rep. If you swing dumbbells around you might as well pack up your gym bag and go home.

Your shoulders will not get the full benefit and you will most likely injure yourself if you continue with the wrong exercise form.

So drop the weights down a notch and eliminate the momentum. Choose weights you can handle for 10-12 strict reps at a slow tempo or lifting pace (1 second up, 2 seconds down).

To further isolate your shoulders you can do your exercises in a seated position to take any extra movement or assistance from your legs out of your lifts.

Mistake 4: Targeting the rear delts incorrectly

We don’t give our rear delts nearly enough attention, mostly because we’re unsure of how to target them effectively. 

To kickstart growth in the rear delt region and bring them on par with your anterior and medial delts, start your training with them. With the right approach and the right exercises they’ll soon become a much stronger body part.

Exercises like the rear delt machine, bend over rear lateral raise, cable reverse flyes, rear delt rows, T-bar rear delt row or the seated rear delt row machine are all great options.

Mistake 5: Not enough variety

We often get stuck in a rut with our training and before we know it we are just cruising through the same number of sets and reps of the same exercises we’ve been doing for the past three months.

To prevent this serious training slump which negates gains and stagnates progress you have to train with a variety of weights and machines, with a varying rep and set structure that follows a properly periodised progression over time.

Also, by using an array of workout tools you will hit the shoulders from all the different angles leaving no aspect of their development to chance and without the proper stimulation to grow.

You can utilise cables, machines, dumbbells and barbells, as outlined in point four, and by using different grips you can stimulate the muscle in a totally different and fresh way. Don’t forget to also use the Smith machine as an alternative for the usual seated dumbbell or machine presses you perform in your workout.

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

When he's not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He's worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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